Sanskrit Spelling

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Mon Feb 28 17:01:05 UTC 2000

V.Agarwal wrote:
>Students like me found it easier to score in Hindi/Sanskrit Srutalekha
>sessions ...  because the Devanagari script is more phonetic.

That is well known, however things are not as easy as depicted here. As
long as there is
diversity in the pronunciation of Sanskrit within the subcontinent you need
spelling, as already shown by Ashok Aklujar in the old quote from Shabara.

For example, if R. Banerjee calls his colleague from Poona by her first
name, zoTTi (short o, i), she won't answer -- as she is used to be called
zakti (never mind the long i).

Our as long as V. Agarwal  or his relatives go to  i'skuul together with
some  i'strii's  and  (or to his sa'kuul in the Panjab) you need to spell
s-c-h-o-o-l, and  sakaara, takaara, etc.

"Middle Indians" from Gujarat  and Mahrastra to Orissa and Andhra rather
pray to Krushna (and occasionally spell his name that way, kruSNa) while
Dilli/UP-wallas prefer Krishna (kriSNa) or even later forms.

And living in Nepal, I would not call my son egyavalke (yajnavalkya) or my
daughter sawa (zobhaa).

Some areas (Tamil Nadu, Kashmir, Bengal!) are so divergent that even the
great V. Raghavan lauded the singing of 'beautiful folk songs' by Kashmiri
Pandit boys --  when they thought they had nicely recited some Veda verses
for him and his Skt. Commission...

In areas with extreme diversion of pronunciation, such as Kashmir, one even
has regular nicknames for individual aksaras, see Grierson in JRAS 1916.

How else could they distinguish between a bhaTTa, a Mr. Butt, or a true bata?


>----Original Message Follows----
>From: Rajarshi Banerjee <rajarshi.banerjee at SMGINC.COM>
>There is no notion of spelling or spelling bees in hindi or sanskrit as it
>exists in english. saying the syllales aloud would just amount to saying the
>word slowly.
Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138

ph. 617-496 2990 (also messages)
home page:

Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies:
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